Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Solid-state laser technology for military applications

Military laser specialists at the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space and Mission Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif., are working to enhance the efficiency of solid-state laser technology for military uses under terms of a $9 million contract announced Monday from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala. The contract was awarded n 27 Sept.

This research contract is part of the Pentagon's Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI) program to improve the current state of the art of electric lasers. RELI is a first step toward developing the next generation of military laser technology for more efficient, lighter and smaller systems., Northrop Grumman officials say. Options could increase the contract's value to as much as $53.3 million.

Other RELI contracts recently have gone out to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Corp. The companies will develop efficient high power electrically driven laser systems suitable for a scalable, ruggedized militarily laser module packaged for ground-, sea-, or air based military applications. Ultimately, experts at the two companies will build laboratory-grade lasers with performance traceable to weapon system applications.

The Army Space and Missile Defense Command / Army Strategic Forces Command in Huntsville, Ala., awarded Northrop Grumman an initial two-year, $8.8 million contract with options that could extend it to a five-year contract valued at $53.3 million.

The RELI program seeks to increase system efficiency to greater than 30 percent while generating good beam quality, a power level of 25 kilowatts that is capable of being scaled to 100 kilowatts, all of which could be packaged on a military platform, company officials say. Solid-state laser systems currently are about 20 percent efficient, according to the Defense Department.

"RELI is a natural follow-on for the next generation of military laser technology from the Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program we completed successfully in early 2009," says Steve Hixson, vice president of advanced concepts – space and directed energy systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "Under RELI, we believe the Defense Department will extend the opportunities for electric lasers for military missions."

The Pentagon's High Energy Laser-Joint Technology Office (HEL-JTO) is helping fund the program. RELI's goal is to deliver a reliable, fieldable system that can be coupled with other Defense Department initiatives and tailored for specific platforms across all military services.

Several Northrop Grumman high-energy laser thrusts will come together on this research project, company officials say. In addition to JHPSSL Phase 3 technology, these include two fiber laser initiatives: Revolution in Fiber Lasers, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program that aims to scale fiber laser amplifier technology up to 3 kilowatts; and the 2-Dimensional Diffractive Optical Element Beam Combining Demonstration, a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program under which Northrop Grumman is demonstrating diffractive beam combining using AFRL's high-power fiber test bed.

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